PERTH - With only a morning to prepare in Perth in between their opening series in Adelaide and their flight to Korea, a core group of Alcohol. Think Again Perth Heat players and coaches gathered at Barbagallo Ballpark for one last workout before their departure.
Two of the Heat's most impressive performers from the opening series in Anthony Claggett and Adam Melker congregated in the weights room with Heat regulars Luke Hughes and Tim Kennelly to discuss the upcoming tournament and their approach to tackle the Giants of Asian Baseball.
Watching the players analysing their upcoming clashes in Asia in the same way that Hughes and Kennelly may have discussed the State Leagues or their development games a decade ago just shows how far baseball Perth has come along with the rise of the Australian Baseball nationwide. Suddenly, the Heat face the legendary Japanese Champions in the Yomiuri Giants, winners of 22 Japan Series in a serious competition that will decide who will be crowned the Champions of Asia.
"It's definitely exciting for a lot of the boys to get the opportunity to go over there and compete at probably the highest level of baseball." Said Luke Hughes, taking time to talk with Heat staff. "It's going to be fun and everyone's looking forward to it after a good weekend over in Adelaide. Asia is just a new challenge for us."
The Heat will be sending fifteen local players to Korea, giving the team a unique advantage over their opponents having grown together as a unit throughout their baseball careers. "One thing we've got going for is good team chemistry, and that goes a long way in these short series. We're not too worried about names on paper, but more so that we're going over there to compete and hopefully win some games. We're going to come up against some pretty good competition, especially in the Yomiuri Giants. Obviously everyone knows how good Japanese baseball is after winning the last two world baseball classics so it's exciting and all the boys are looking forward to it."
With over a hundred games of Major League experience, Luke Hughes will certainly fit in well with the competition the Heat face in the Asia Series. Along with senior players such as Vasquez and Claggett, Hughes' has plenty of guidance to give the Heat's younger players making a big step up in this year's tournament.
"Basically it's about staying within yourselves - you're going to be excited and you're going to have nerves but these are the natural feelings that we have to deal with in every game. We noticed last year in Taiwan that the guys struggled a little bit with the speed of the game, but now everyone's had another year under their belts and it's something that will come more natural this time around. It might take an inning or two to for everyone to settle in, we've got some good American guys here too and it's going to be fun to see them go out there and show themselves to the world."
After appearing in Adelaide in the batter's box and on the mound, Tim Kennelly travels to Korea as the ultimate utility player for the Heat, and was very happy with the team's preparations after sweeping in Adelaide. "We're going to go in as underdogs which is a different position for us after winning the last couple of years" Said Kennelly. "After the Adelaide Series and all of the practice games we've had, we're ready to take these guys on. They might end up taking us pretty lightly, and that will probably work out well for us because we've got the guys who can pull this off, be competitive and snag a couple of wins."
Picking up three strikeouts in his one inning pitched to close out the Heat's 13-3 game two victory in Adelaide, Tim Kennelly finally had a chance to show to an Australian audience why the Phillies put so much faith in his pitching abilities. With the aim of reaching the majors as a Phillies reliever, Kennelly has a great chance in Asia to test out his capabilities against some quality competition.
"I've only been pitching for a couple of months now so every time I go out on the mound I'm learning something new. It's exciting for me every time I go out there. It's definitely a challenge throwing out against some of the best players in the world and I'm going to go out and give it the best I've got."
With a prize pool of almost AUD$1 million to share amongst the teams, there's a little more than just pride to play for when the Heat arrive in Asia. After a strong showing in Taiwan, the Heat are hoping to go one step further in Korea to show to the world how far baseball has come in Australia.